Commentary: Sunset Across The Pacific

The news coming from the Renaissance Center, Bangkok, and Melbourne was not surprising.

To summarize, General Motors announce that they will "cease Holden sales, design, and engineering operations by 2021" and end Chevrolet brand sales in Thailand by the end of 2020. Furthermore, Great Wall Motors will most likely buy the production facility in Thailand from GM.

This is indeed bad news for the Asia-Pacific region. This is also seen as a bad move by GM in a market where they had a strong presence dating back to the end of World War II.

And, yet, this is not all surprising. GM had been doing a lot of pulling back from a number of markets, including those where the steering wheel is on the right side. GM’s presence in South Africa and India were among the early markets that the company pulled out from.

The biggest move was the sale of GMs European operations to PSA Groupe. Not because of RHD products, but of regaining capital towards creating a leaner company.

A "leaner" GM? I don’t know…

What I am puzzled by is that GM decided to pull out of Australia, New Zealand, and Thailand because they drove on the "wrong side of the road." There are many interpretations of this alleged reasoning behind this latest announcement. Could it be that GM wanted to trim development costs by not engineering RHD versions of their products? I will let you interpret that as you will…

This announcement also came less than a year after it announced the shutting down of GM Canada's main facilities in Oshawa, the closure and sale of the Lordstown facility in Ohio, and the termination of several car lines in North America. While unrelated, these are indeed related to the problems that GM is supposedly having.

Problems?

Yes, GM is trying to shift global vehicle development towards electrification and autonomous driving. Doing so on the backs of their most loyal workers and customers abroad is sort of questionable. You can cite money losses and the lack of support from the Australian federal government since 2014, but one has to wonder if that is motivation to simply "cut and run" from Australia altogether.

If you recall, Holden had a deep history. It was the brand that gave the world its first wholly-developed Australian car in 1948. It created icons for the “lucky country” since then – with names such as Monaro, Kingswood, Premier, and Commodore.

That history began to wind down on October 17, 2017. That was the day when Holden closed its final assembly plant in Australia. Since then, they huddled several vehicles from various parts of GM to sell as Holdens in the Oceana region. You had a German-made Vauxhall Insignia sold as a Commodore selling next to a Thai-produced Colorado pickup, and a rebadged Chevrolet Equinox.

And, yet, the Chevrolet-badged Commodore imported over stateside never caught on. As did the previous generation model sold as the Pontiac G8 and the Monaro rebadged as the Pontiac GTO. And, all of that sucked, because they were damn good cars!

Of course, there had been some blowback from the Australian government. According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Minister for Industry Karen Andrews was upset that GM did not consult the Canberra government on this move. As I mentioned before, the same Coalition (Liberal and National parties) government that is in power now was the same party that pulled all support for automotive production back in 2014. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd reminded us of that cull on his Twitter yesterday.

In GM’s press release and through Holden's own social media channels, there seems to be a glimmer of hope for Australian consumers. They eluded to seeing some growth in the "specialty vehicle business." Could this mean that HSV (Holden Special Vehicles) would continue converting Chevrolet Silverado HDs and Camaros to RHD at the Walkinshaw joint facility? Could that mean bringing the C8 Corvette and some of the Cadillac lineup across the Pacific?

Not to mention, GM stated that they are committed to supporting Holden owners in Australia and New Zealand for the next 10 years through authorized service centers, call centers, parts availability, and so forth. I’d love to see how that will look come next year.

As for the situation in Thailand, it is a win for the Chinese automotive industry if this sale of the GM production facility to Great Wall is finalized. However, should we consider this a loss for GM? It depends on how you see a glass of water.

Understand that GM needed to be leaner company globally while deepening their commitment to future mobility. Whether you see this as a good or bad thing depends on how you see the world – or, used to see the world.

I am old enough to remember when GM was the world's biggest automotive company. It had facilities on six out of the seven continents, provided their localized customers great products, and continued to show strength even though they had a multitude of problems across the company.

Needless to say, sunsetting the Holden brand is hurting very badly right now.

Photo by Randy Stern

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